Among the list of projects the University of Mississippi recently submitted to the College Board was the redevelopment of the old Whirlpool plant into a recreational facility and a hub to help ease traffic and parking woes.
Schools annually submit their Facilities Needs Requests, which give the College Board an idea of each school’s funding needs moving forward, said Institutes for Higher Learning spokesperson Caron Blanton.
The Whirlpool facility closed in 2009, and Ole Miss bought it for $3.4 million not long after that. The 68-acre property south of campus includes buildings and some existing infrastructure that make it ideal for some kind of development, said Larry Sparks, vice chancellor for administration and finance at Ole Miss.
Part of the master plan the school adopted in 2009, which Sparks called a fluid document that has been updated recently, included the development of the old Whirlpool building into something the school could use, because it’s contiguous with property the school has long owned.
The plan looked at three or four possible uses of the property. A recreation facility and parking and transportation hub was settled on as the best use of the site after gathering input from university stakeholders, including students, Sparks said.
The site has access to campus and to Old Taylor Road, a main southern artery.
“The thing that got the most interest and has the highest probability of occurring is a recreational facility, indoor and outdoor, as well as something to assist with our parking and transportation needs,” Sparks said. “We’re in need of a new student recreation center so this seemed to make sense.”
Sparks stressed that the idea is nothing more than a concept now, and few details have been set. That process will start in November, he said, with conversations among the same groups used to arrive at the recreation/transportation use for the site.
“We’re still in the very early stages,” Sparks said. “Several layouts have been discussed, but nothing is final. The ideas that will be thrown around are a combination of an internal and external recreation facility. We think we can get multiple external fields in terms of basketball, softball, soccer. We also think we can get an additional 750 parking spots for commuters, those using the facility and for gameday parking. That will give us some additional options.”
A newer part of the Whirlpool building is particularly attractive, Sparks said, because it has 30-foot ceilings and support beams that are wide enough apart to house things like basketball and tennis courts.
Office space could be included among the facility, Sparks added.
The school’s existing recreation facility — the 30-year-old Turner Center — has been outgrown, Sparks said. Increasing its size to meet demand would be more expensive than retrofitting the Whirlpool building. “By having the second center at this site, we could offer different types of activity that would serve as a compliment to the Tuner Center, and would serve to alleviate some of the overcrowding there.”
“There’s still a lot of conversations to be had, with students and with (campus recreation officials). They’re a central piece of those discussions. I don’t want people to think we have all the finals worked out, because we don’t.”
The project, whose cost estimate is $20 million, does not have a timetable for completion, “but if a funding source were to be found it would speed up the process tremendously,” Spark said. “We hope to remain a growing and vibrant campus, and to do that you have to plan 10 and 20 years into the future.”
Blanton said the College Board will review the requests from each school individually, and not as a whole.